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How Our Exercise, Diet, Sleep, and Hearing Affects Our Brain Aging

Dr. Molly DillonBrain Health

Dr. Molly Dillon

Though aging is a natural process that occurs over time, there are factors that can accelerate or decelerate the aging of the brain according to a recent report. Brain aging causes essential cognitive functions to become less flexible. This includes decision making, memory, performing daily tasks etc. Researchers at the University of California San Diego list exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing as factors that can significantly impact brain aging. These factors can support brain health and slow brain aging.


The many benefits of exercise are well known: boosts energy, supports the immune system, and enhances blood flow. But did you know that exercise also supports brain health? The report by researchers at UC San Diego included findings from a study that investigated the impact of exercise on brain health. This study involved 1740 participants, 65 and older, whose exercise patterns and brain health was evaluated for over 6 years. Researchers found that the people who exercised 3 or more times every week were 32% less likely to develop dementia compared to participants who exercised less than 3 times per week. Further research also shows that exercise can reduce the risk of hearing loss, another medical condition that is linked with cognitive decline.

Exercise strengthens cardiovascular health which is vital for many of the body’s systems. It lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation, reduces stress hormones, improves muscles’ ability to get oxygen out of blood etc. This can improve attention, cognitive processing, and episodic memory. The strengthening of these cognitive functions supports brain health and reduces risk of cognitive decline.


In addition to exercise, diet can also contribute to improved brain health. Extensive research shows that there is a link between die and hearing loss, a risk factor for cognitive decline. Extensive research has shown that healthier dietary patterns can reduce the risk of developing hearing loss, supporting brain health. This includes a major study that included over 80,000 people whose hearing and diet was assessed every 4 years for 22 years. Researchers found that compared to people not following healthful diets, participants who did practice healthy ways of eating were:

  • 25% less likely to develop high frequency hearing loss
  • 30% less likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss

Researchers found that healthy dietary patterns followed commonly recommended diets including: Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010). These diets emphasize plant based foods and eliminate processed foods. They are rich in vegetables, fruits, adn whole grains while meat, alcohol, and dairy are recommended in moderation. This approach to eating is full of nutrients that boost health and wellness, reducing risks like hearing loss and cognitive decline.


Adults need to receive 7-9 hours of sleep each night but over a third do not receive adequate sleep. The Sleep Foundation estimates that 50-70 million adults have a sleep disorder. You have likely experienced the impact of lack of quality sleep: irritation, fatigue, grogginess, inability to concentrate etc. Not receiving adequate sleep on a regular basis can also impact brain health.

Sleep deprivation increases the deposition of beta amyloid which are amino acids( or plaque deposits) that are typically found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. This suggests that beta amyloid is a characteristic of cognitive decline. Research shows that slow wave sleep can actually clear beta amyloid. Slow wave sleep is achieved through quality and adequate sleep which can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.


Hearing is another factor that is tied to brain health. Extensive research shows that hearing loss can significantly increase the risk of cognitive decline and associated conditions like dementia. This includes a major study of over 10,000 people who had their hearing and cognitive capacities assessed for 8 years. Researchers found that cognitive decline was:

  • 30% higher for people with mild hearing loss
  • 42% higher for people with moderate hearing loss
  • 54% higher for people with severe hearing loss

This data shows a significant correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. This supports further research that identifies hearing loss as a risk factor for cognitive decline. Hearing loss can affect brain health in a few ways including shrinking the portions of the brain that are responsible for processing auditory information. It also forces the brain to work harder in trying to hear which can lead to cognitive overload, also impacting cognitive health. It is important to have your hearing assessed regularly and to treat any symptoms as early as possible. Contact us today for more information.